APUSH Tips from Lin Manuel Miranda

APUSH Tips from Lin Manuel Miranda

Camilo Zeballos, Reporter

Last Friday, Tony award-winning playwright and musical composer Lin Manuel Miranda took part in an AP US History online review, which focused on how to best handle information for the FRQ’s on the exam. He was interviewed by Barbara Cronan and Dana Kopelman, who are both teachers that have been teaching AP US History for years

The interview began with Miranda giving a little bit of insight into how he began his work and his difficulties with contrasting ideas in history. “There are lots of different versions of the same story,” Miranda said in the interview. He mentioned that one of the hardest things was deciding which story to tell in the overarching Hamilton story, but said that in the end, the author from the source he was reading that determined where he would go with his story. “[The Author] focused on the relentlessness of Hamilton, instead of his writings…and to me, that’s what makes a great musical theater character, their relentlessness.”

He said nowhere was this harder than when dealing with Aaron Burr. Miranda mentioned that when he was looking into the story he didn’t have much to go on. Burr didn’t write as much as Hamilton did, and insights into his life after, and even before the duel with Hamilton are limited. Miranda said that when composing Burr as a character he really had to focus on what he could find, and complimenting it with first-hand stories that Burr’s descendants were able to share with him. The problem was that each story he heard seemed to be contradicting each other. He mentioned how one saw Burr as this hugely misunderstood person that was just a victim of the world, whereas another source would tell him the exact opposite and that Burr was terrible. He said that when taking information from multiple sources it’s important to not just look at the fact in each separately but to look at it as one overlapping piece and how you can tell an interesting story with the information that you are given.

The teachers in the program didn’t fail to mention how much Miranda’s  work compares to what the AP examinees have to do. They delve into how to best pick sources and how to give the right amount of information without giving too much. Miranda said this was one of the hardest things for him when writing Hamilton, “You could make a full musical about Hamilton’s early life, starting with his birth and ending with him leaving the island…I had to make a lot of tough choices and you can see a lot of them in the opening number of the show.”

For those unfamiliar with the show, it opens with different characters narrating the story of Hamilton’s early life, from each of their perspectives. While the song is only a couple minutes long, we get the complete story and everything we need to know in order to understand who Hamilton is, without being overwhelmed with information, “I had to think about what would best entertain the audience for the 2 in a half hours that I have them.” Miranda also re-emphasized how the students taking the exam should go through the same process as he did. They should not only look at the facts, but also what they find interesting, and what they can use to tell the most interesting and factual story.

Miranda’s “master class” on condensing and writing history is sure to be useful and remembered by many. College Board has been hosting many of these AP review classes online on Youtube for everyone at no cost. They cover all subjects from AP Latin to AP Computer Sciences and anything in between. If you currently have an AP exam that you need to study for you should definitely go and take a look at the videos. While not all of them have Lin Manuel Miranda, they all have amazing teachers ready to extend a helping hand in this time of quarantine and preparation for the AP exams.